In recent years there has been a push towards banning tobacco advertising at sporting events and promoting tobacco-free sports by the global anti-tobacco movement. Most recently, at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, policies were put in place to keep the World Cup free from tobacco advertising and sponsorship. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), sports have long been associated with tobacco sponsorship and there is still a long way to go.
“Of course, the tobacco industry predicted dire consequences if they could not support sport, that some sport would not survive without them. This turned out not to be true,” said Paul Hooper, Co-Director of the UK Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre. He added that there is a connection between tobacco advertisements and smoking in smoking venues. This applies to banning as well.
“Once the ban on advertising is in force, it is easier to ban the practice of smoking from indoor areas and whole stadia,” he said.
According to the WHO, many sports organizations have already ‘voluntarily’ given up tobacco advertisement and sponsorships and have not suffered financially as a result. But the WHO continues to urge governments, sporting associations and teams around the world to implement bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship at sporting events.
“All major world events are free from tobacco advertising,” said Mr. Hooper. The Olympic Games, which has been tobacco-free since the late 1980s, and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) which followed in 1987, are the world’s two biggest sporting events that have done so. Others like the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and India’s National Cricket Team have taken similar stances.
Many countries also have laws banning tobacco advertising in sports according to Mr. Hooper. For example, the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act of 2002 which went into force in 2005 covered Formula 1 and other sports. ‘The delay was to enable sports to find alternative sponsors and for existing contracts to expire,’ he added. In the EU, tobacco advertising is prohibited by the Tobacco Advertising Directive of 2003.
A burden on healthcare
The WHO considers the tobacco epidemic to be one of the biggest public health threats, killing ‘more than 8 million people worldwide’ every year. During the last decades huge efforts have been made to reduce tobacco use among the population and decrease its health burden.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the main source of tobacco control law. It establishes a set of measures for tobacco control through packaging, advertising bans, smoking bans, and others. The FCTC is a legally binding treaty currently ratified by 182 Member States, thus making it ‘one of the most widely embraced treaties in United Nations history.’
A way to fight the urge
Banning advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products is one of the ways to stop people from smoking. Recently, there has been a push particularly focused on sporting events as the tobacco industry has long been using these events to promote its products. But, as mentioned, steps were already being taken even before the FCTC.
When contacted for comments, spokespersons of the tobacco industry did not reply.